The Wildlife Trusts, in my opinion, did not distinguish themselves over the issue of public forests and SSSIs in 2010/11. They gave the impression to many of us of having one eye on the main chance and having lost focus on the needs of nature. Let’s put it down to a momentary aberration which we should now put behind us since their line on public forests now seems very good (to me – see what you think).
Here is what they are saying ahead of the Independent Panel’s report on Forestry which will be published tomorrow (and on which sits the Wildlife Trusts’ supremo Stephanie Hilborne):
The Wildlife Trusts’ seven criteria:
1. A new remit for the Forestry Commission
The Wildlife Trusts want to see a shift in the Forestry Commission so that its primary focus is on nature and the provision of other public benefits. The Public Forest Estate should be an exemplar of sustainable management. This will require a change in the Forestry Commission’s statutory remit.
Forestry should be part of a coherent strategy for the natural environment: woods being one part of a resilient ecological network. Forestry policy and grants should be integrated with other land use and management policies and incentives.
3. Better protection
We want to see better protection for existing woods, especially ancient woodlands.
4. Reconnection of people with the natural environment
People’s access to the Public Forest Estate (PFE) should be protected. Government should also create more opportunities for people to enjoy and be inspired by woodlands and forests outside the Public Forest Estate.
5. Reconnection of woodlands at a landscape-scale
Natural regeneration and tree planting should be encouraged to buffer, extend and link existing woodlands. In all cases, a ‘right tree in the right place’ principle should be adopted.
6. Restoration of existing woodlands
Existing woodlands that could be richer in wildlife should be brought to life by appropriate, sustainable woodland management. This can increase habitat quality and help to reverse declines in woodland wildlife.
7. Restoration of open habitats under plantation forestry
Areas of lowland heathland, meadow and other internationally important open habitats planted with conifers must be restored with urgency.
Paul Wilkinson added: “The Public Forest Estate represents the single biggest opportunity to implement the recommendations made in last year’s Natural Environment White Paper, including the Lawton Review. It is critical that this opportunity is taken.”
I think all of those points are good ones and the most important is the first – a new remit for FC – because so much else flows from that important change. And, personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few grotty forests being sold off under that new remit (for there are grotty forests that could easily be managed by the private sector and whose sale would top up public coffers). But a new remit for FC is key – one that recognises the real value of forests not just their timber value. And that new remit would look much more similar to the remit of NE, wouldn’t it?
So, well done Wildlife Trusts. Well done for recapturing your conservation essence and getting your mojo working again.